s India Shining?Summiya Yasmeen finds critical opinion has focused understandably on disparities that mark Indias progress,and the nations young people too are keenly aware of this.March 2004 - It’s widely being hailed as the masterstroke which will sweep the major constituents of the ruling NDA(National Democratic Alliance) coalition — and particularly its largest party, the BJP — back into power in thegeneral election scheduled for April. The ubiquitous multi-media India Shining advertisement campaign which sportsthe distinctive finger-prints of BJP master strategist Pramod Mahajan, has received widespread acclaim in the mediaas a trump card which will help the BJP break the electoral bank.But then the media would acclaim — and find reasons to acclaim — this unprecedented media blitzkrieg. It is anestimated Rs.400 crore richer for it. Never mind the small detail that the nation’s legal (and illegal) taxpayers arepaying for it. The central theme of this massive Rs.400 crore media blitz is that all sectors of the Indian economy —agriculture, industry, services, education, roads, health etc — have recorded unprecedented growth and progressduring the past five years that the NDA has ruled in New Delhi. In short the people of India have never had it sogood, is the message.Undeniably there’s some substance in the government’s campaign. Annual GDP growth has averaged 6 percentplus during the past five years and is nudging 8 percent this year; the country’s foreign exchange reserves haverisen to the highest ever $106 billion; India is emerging as a force to reckon with in IT, steel and automotiveancillaries markets overseas; telecom density has risen from 20 to 40 million connections; and perhaps moststrikingly (according to one India Shining campaign ad), against 11 km per year during the past 50 years, nationalhighways are being constructed at the speed of 11 km per day. Shopping malls, multiplexes, five-star hotels, luxuryspas and sleek automobiles apart from a dazzling array of luxury new products offer citizens a never-before plethoraof goodies.But considerations such as the taxpayer being made to foot the India In India’s case, there are twoShining campaign apart, there is growing disquiet about the self- nations. One is ‘India Shining’,congratulatory, conspicuous consumption tone of the ad campaign and in which the government keepsparticular about its fudging the issue of the NDA government’s (the BJP is harping about, but the other Indiawidely regarded as a middle class traders’ party) poor rural development is one where even basic humanrecord. Increasingly Mahajan & Co are discovering that the clever India needs are not being met. WhileShining campaign is a two-edged sword. With liberal India’s formidable Indian officials have been toutingintellectuals beginning to question the premises of this glaringly expensive last year’s 8 percent economicfeel-good ad campaign, there is sudden fear within the BJP that it may blow growth, during the same yearup in its collective face. 1.25 million children below the age of one died, around 50 million"India is only shining for a small section of society, for the posh middle class children were out of school andstrata and above. The incomes of these people have risen, while for the vast half of India’s children weremajority unemployment is growing. Many new private/ NRI funded hospitals malnourished."have sprung up but conditions in public hospitals are abysmal. Governmentschools remain neglected while a growing number of luxury private schools - Salil Shettyoffering foreign certification are sprouting across the country. There are new Director, U.N. Millenniumcars with a whole array of safety and luxury features, but public transport is Campaign, and former chiefstill terrible. Most public services remain neglected and the majority of executive, ActionAid.citizens don’t have access to basic amenities like clean and safe drinkingwater. Given these vast glaring inequities, how can one say India isshining?" asks Dipankar Gupta, professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru • Govt shining, media miningUniversity, Delhi. • The feel good factoryProf. Gupta’s observations are supported by the United Nations advocacy group U.N. Millennium Campaign whichrecently opined that shining India will be hard-pressed to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) towhich it is committed, by 2015. The goals include eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primaryeducation, combating HIV/AIDS and reducing child mortality.
"In India’s case, there are two nations. One is ‘India Shining’, which the government keeps harping about, but the other India is one where even basic human needs are not being met. While Indian officials have been touting last year’s 8 percent economic growth, during the same year 1.25 million children below the age of one died, around 50 million children were out of school and half of India’s children were malnourished," says Salil Shetty, Millennium Campaign director and former chief executive of ActionAid, the well-known London-based non-government organisation. Shetty has been particularly critical of the Union government spending $800 billion per year (a 50 percent under-estimate) on defence, when $900 billion (Rs.40,000 crore) annually would ensure the achievement of the MDGs.In particular the NDA government and the India Shining campaign gloss over the low priority given to education in anation in which 500 million citizens are below 19 years of age. According to the Economic Survey (2004) statistics,for the first time in recent memory the aggregate national (centre plus states) outlay for education has dipped belowthe 3 percent of GDP threshold, plunging from 3.6 percent in 1996-97 to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2003-04.Not surprisingly the NDA’s (actually BJP’s) solitary advertisement trumpeting its educational record — unlike othersectoral ads which bristle with numbers and statistics — is long on hype and conspicuously silent about numbers."For India’s students these are brilliant times with rapidly rising literacy, more schools, new colleges, globally famousIITs and IIMs and a vast spectrum of IT, media, film and fashion institutes, life is radiant with new opportunities...Build your dreams, spread the enthusiasm and make India stronger and shine even better," says the educationcomponent couched in generalities of the India Shining campaign.Meanwhile the ground reality is that the Union HRD ministry’s ambitious Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) or EducationFor All (EFA) programme launched in 2003 following the passage by a unanimous voice vote in Parliament of the86th amendment to the Constitution of India, which makes it compulsory for state governments to provideelementary education to all children between the ages of six-14, has proved a non-starter. According to the NationalAlliance for the Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE), an umbrella organisation of 2,400 NGOs, of the Rs.9,800crore committed by Parliament to SSA (to be matched by state governments), only Rs.1,500 crore has beenallocated.Consequently even positivists within the tribe which teaches the dismal "This campaign is unethical in itsscience that is economics who believe that the contents of the glass half-full timing. The government is using itneed to be appreciated and celebrated, tend to be lukewarm about the to derive electoral advantagenational rollout of the unprecedented India Shining advertising blitzkrieg. which is not right. Apart from thisComments Ashima Goyal, professor of economics at the Indira Gandhi I see nothing wrong with it. InInstitute of Development Research, Mumbai: "The Indian economy is fact after all these years of therecording consistently higher economic growth than in the past and this country being run down, I feelneeds to be celebrated. But I do feel this campaign is unethical in its timing. that it’s good to praise ourselves."The government is using it to derive electoral advantage which is not right.Apart from this I see nothing wrong with it. In fact after all these years of the • Progress by any measurecountry being run down, I feel that it’s good to praise ourselves."Yet even as pundits debate the merits and demerits — and timing — of the Rs.400 crore India Shining campaign, inthe cacophony boosted by strident electoral campaigning for the general election scheduled for April, the voice ofyoung India — the other half of this billion-strong country — has been drowned. Despite the United NationsConvention on the Rights of the Child (1990) to which India is a signatory specifically stipulating that the views ofchildren be "given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child" (Article 12 (1)), their opinions onsubjects of national importance are seldom solicited. To ascertain the views of young India, EducationWorldcorrespondents across the country interviewed the head boys and head girls of independent and governmentschools to elicit their opinions about the India Shining campaign.The questions put to the youngsters were: Do you believe India is shining? How optimistic are you about the future?
Critics of the India Shining campaign say that rural India is totally neglected.What’s your comment? What do you think needs to be done to make India truly shine?The answers received are as follows: Mixed response Saurabh Kumar (16), class X head boy of Bombay Scottish School, Mumbai The India Shining campaign is justified in some ways, in others I feel it isn’t. India is shining in many fields especially science and information technology, but things like the CAT exam paper scam, political interference in the fee structure of IIMs and the Telgi stamp paper racket involving top police professionals and politicians are a blot on the country’s progress. Political interference in the management of education institutions like the IIMs is wholly unjustified. I also feel that while agriculture is progressing, the farmers are not being given their due. Rural neglect Aishwarya Ramakrishnan (16), class X vice-captain of Bombay Scottish, Mumbai Rural India is being neglected. I agree that we are doing well in many fields, especially sports, IT and science and to that extent I think this is really a good time to run the India Shining campaign. India is shining in many ways but the government should use these good times to improve the condition of rural India and farmers who have been, and are still neglected. Much more needs to be done for them. Unfortunately education has also been sadly neglected and this is an area which the government should urgently address. We also need more politicians like Chandrababu Naidu. Under his leadership Andhra Pradesh has progressed rapidly, and we are really lucky in our president Dr. Abdul Kalam. We need more people like them. Money can be better spent S. Thrivikraman (17), class XII head boy of P.S. Senior Secondary School, Mylapore, Chennai I do believe India is shining. But do we need to spend Rs.400 crore to get the message across? The money could have been used to set up more schools and hospitals or for laying roads in areas where people have not got the benefits of the India Shining campaign. However the future of India seems bright. Great progress has been made in different sectors of the economy, but it must reach everyone, especially people in villages who only get to see TV advertisements of shining India. Rural India is progressing but it will take time for progress to reach every section of the country. So the pace has to be speeded up. This is where constructive criticism of the opposition is useful. It keeps the government on its toes. To quote Max Mueller, "the heart of India is in its villages". From Operation Flood to the Green Revolution, rural India has, is and will always be, a big part of India. To make India truly shine we have to overcome our religious and caste differences, strive for the betterment of our one billion brothers and sisters, make our country 100 percent literate, cleanse our political system and restore public faith in democracy, help our neighbours in times of crisis, root out corruption and most of all be proud to be Indian. It wouldn’t hurt if we won the next cricket World Cup also! More needs to be done Siddharth Shankar Shukla (19), class XII captain of S.V.S.Vidyalaya, Kolkata Yes, I believe India is shining because the standard of living of the common man has definitely improved. What was considered a luxury for a select few merely five years ago can now be easily afforded by middle- class Indians. There is greater awareness among the people now, as well as greater connectivity and the future does appear brighter. Yes, the expenditure to promote a shining India has been too much but to say
that progress has been minimal is not true. The incentives given to the common man in the form of loans —educational, personal, home, etc — are plenty and suggest that the critics are over-exaggerating.A lot more needs to be done. A large percentage of the population still lives below the poverty line. Thetaboos that still exist in society in the name of religion and tradition need to be done away with and this callsfor a combined effort from citizens and the government.Yes, India is shining!Nidhi Dokania (17), head girl of Ashok Hall Girls’ High School, KolkatYes I do believe that India is shining. The facts and figures — GDP growth rate this year has beenastronomical, the sensex is shooting and foreign investors are taking an interest in our economy — all thisindicates India is shining. The number of people living in poverty has also declined, though marginally. Ifirmly believe that in ten-20 years from now, India will be one of the leading nations of the world.No, I don’t agree with the critics because they are just anti-BJP politicians out to bad-mouth the party beforethe elections. It is undeniable that the quality of life everywhere — urban and rural — has improved duringtheir term in office. Loans are easily available to farmers and students.To make India really shine, the sociological and ideological mindsets of people at the individual level have tochange. Also corruption in public life needs to be curbed.Waste of moneyNeha Mathur (17), class XII student of the Government Girls Senior Secondary School, DelhiThis ad campaign is a big waste of money. It would have been better if the money used on this campaignhad been diverted to rural areas. In any case, I feel citizens are responsible for the progress India has madethus far, not government schemes. At the same time, I think the government has brought about somepositive changes. Reducing the fees in IIMs is a good step. So far, only the rich could afford to go to IIMs.Now, many more will be able to afford it. Some progress has been made in rural areas, such as theinstallation of telephone lines and availability of mobile phones. But yes, basic inequalities are still there.We have a lot of resources and qualified people in India. But for India to shine, all citizens have to beencouraged to join together to take the country forward. Instead our politicians are dividing people.Pay attention to environment and corruptionV. Dhanalakshmi (17), class XII head girl of Children’s Garden Higher Secondary School, ChennaiIndia is shining only in certain areas like industry and health, not on all fronts. We have very low literacy andlack the basic infrastructure essential for all-round progress. There is, however, hope for the future as Indiahas made great headway in fields ranging from agriculture and dairy production to space research andcommunication.I look at the India Shining campaign as a mere advertisement that’s unrealistic and an election gimmickmeant to influence voters. Farmers are shown to be smiling happily in these ad campaigns but in reality theyhave massive problems. So many of them commit suicide everyday because of drought, lack of credit,cheating by government servants etc. Most of the rural population is denied basic amenities like drinkingwater, clothing, shelter and education and live miserable lives below the poverty line. Proper roads andelectricity are unheard of in some rural parts of India. India is shining only in certain parts of urban India.Plans for development have to be implemented. It’s not enough to write plans and forget about them. Allpeople have to participate and prosper if India is to shine and progress. Right now India is only a ‘prostar’,which in astrophysics means a collection of inter-stellar matter. If we can root out corruption, make ourenvironment pollution free and work to change ourselves, India can become a shining star.
Government shouldnt take all creditUday Raj Anand (17), class XII student and general secretary of the Student Executive of Sardar PatelVidyalaya, DelhiYes, there have been some successes and achievements in India. We have a very dynamic educationsector, there is a big rise in foreign exchange reserves, the telecom industry is booming, there is reduction ofpollution in Delhi where roads have improved.It isn’t fair to deny any credit to the government. The recent peace initiative with Pakistan has given Indiansconfidence and hope. However all the credit shouldn’t be given to government. There are a lot of privateplayers who have contributed to India’s development. For example in the education sector, many privateinstitutes have introduced interesting new programmes. Today a school-leaving student has so many morecareer options to choose from. I believe the changes in India are the result of a long-term process, not justthe result of one government’s efforts.There is general apathy towards rural India. Even the media tends to play up events only in urban India —like the IIM debate, the grading system in schools. But issues like the Naxalite movement and terrorism inJharkhand are never highlighted, as these things don’t affect people living in cities.Financial allocations for primary education in village schools haven’t really risen. Not enough is being doneabout the needs of rural India, although it’s true that the President’s efforts in Chhatisgarh have done a lot toimprove the level of awareness in villages, as have NGOs.Keep the fiscal deficit down, GDP up, foreign exchange reserves high, and hope for a good monsoon.Infrastructure investment in the rural sector — both agricultural and social — has to be increased constantlyfor growth and to keep India shining. All the taxpayers’ contributions shouldn’t be grabbed by the cities.We need to maintain a focus on values. So many NRIs keep coming back to India because of our valuesystem. Sardar Patel School follows a curriculum focussed around Indian values and ideals — these thingsare important to India. Some of the policies of the present NDA government contradict these values and thisis damaging efforts to maintain sustainable progress, growth, and development.Huge rural-urban divideSandeep S. (15), class X head boy of St. Joseph’s Indian High School, BangalorNo I don’t believe India is really shining. The taxpayer’s money used for advertising India’s so-calledachievements could have been better utilised in building schools and hospitals in rural areas. Everydaythere are reports of financial scandals in the newspapers. Corruption in public life has become so commonthat these scandals have stopped to surprise us. But India does have a good future because it’s abundant innatural and human resources. We just have to learn to use both of them effectively and efficiently.I agree that rural India has been totally neglected. There is a huge rural-urban divide. Whereas in urbanIndia there are new shopping complexes, expensive hotels and pubs coming up everyday, in rural Indiapeople don’t have even clean drinking water and electricity. If they don’t have a supportive infrastructure,how can we expect them to become productive members of society?It’s true progress is only in certain corners of India. You just have to walk down any of Bangalore’s roads tosee beggars, many of them children. These children who should be in school are begging on the streets.This is certainly not India shining.The government must give top priority to education and rural development. There’s an urgent need for anational campaign against corruption. President Dr. Abdul Kalam should head this campaign.No change in living conditions
Raghvendra S. (16), class X head boy of Jain Vidya Niketan School, Kanakpura district, near BangaloreIndia may be shining for 25 percent of the population which lives in the cities, but not for us who live invillages. Sure, our country has a good future, but it can only become a powerful country and shine if there isdevelopment in the villages.The critics are right. There hasn’t been much change in living conditions in rural India. The roads are bad,there is no drinking water, power supply is erratic, water for irrigation is insufficient, and the publictransportation system is very unreliable. For us far away from the cities, we can only observe the progressfrom a distance; we don’t enjoy the fruits of that progress. Those joys are only for city children, not for us. Iwonder how many years it will take for us to enjoy the progress of the cities in our own villages?India can really shine if there is progress in the rural areas where 70 percent of Indians live. We depend onagriculture for our livelihood. Unless there is development in the agricultural sector and farmers’ welfarebecomes the No.1 priority of the government, there is no future for the majority of our people. ⊕